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Orchestrating Student Discussions with ASSISTments Data

As ASSISTments has scaled to over 18,000 teachers this school year, a priority for our Program Team is to provide quality teacher support, especially when it comes to maximizing the data found in our Assignment Report, Student Details Report, & Skill Builder Report

Our users know that ASSISTments is as easy as 4 steps. We find that assigning online (Step 1) and getting students immediate feedback (Step 2) are easy places to start as a new user, and bring clear benefits for teachers and students. However our detailed, actionable data reports are really the key to achieving impact with ASSISTments. When teachers invest the time in interpreting and analyzing these data (Step 3), and sharing data back with students for discussion (Step 4), they see the greatest benefits.

Why is the fourth step  - communicating with data - the hardest to get to? For one, as we explore in our virtual professional learning communities, facilitating high-leverage, growth-oriented student discussions requires teachers to consider several important factors and takes careful planning.

Another concern is how much time it takes to plan and facilitate discussion built around student solutions. Pacing can be very unpredictable because the discussion is highly student driven (versus say, a discussion around a carefully constructed teacher explanation). 

A final common challenge is student engagement. Students may not understand the primary or secondary vocabulary necessary to participate in the discussion. Some students may be hesitant to participate because of a lack of confidence in their ability to comprehend math and discuss it with other students in class. 

While these are common barriers, there is clear value to getting discussions going in your classroom. With the right planning and messaging, every student, regardless of their level of understanding, is presented with the opportunity to share thinking (concrete to abstract) and all are highlighted and celebrated.  Students can learn from each other and thus have access to multiple pathways of student thinking which will, no doubt, improve student proficiency with the material.

Given the value, we wanted to share some high-leverage recommendations on how to use ASSISTments data to promote rich discussions with and among students. 

Use Common Wrong Answer Data to Discuss a “Favorite Mistake”

One straightforward way to incorporate discussions into your lessons is to use the  “My Favorite No” routine. This routine invites students to do error analysis on one problem or task that the entire class has completed.  The teacher projects one wrong answer and students share what they like about the work before identifying the mistake. The idea is to encourage students to see that even if you get to the right answer, there can still be a lot to learn from how a student approached the problem.

With ASSISTments, we make picking a “favorite no” or wrong answer easy by providing common wrong answers. This would be ripe for discussion, as it is an answer that often reflects some correct work, but then an error that reflects a common misconception. What exactly might this look like? This short slide deck highlights an example using a 7th grade problem from Open Up Resources in ASSISTments.


Use the 5 Practices to Prepare and Plan your Discussion

A useful framework to consider is the  “5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Math Discussions.” The 5 practices provide guidance of how to fold purposeful discussions into daily lessons using student work response to guide the planning process. In brief, they are:

  1. Anticipating likely student responses to challenging mathematical tasks;
  2. Monitoring students’ actual responses to the tasks (while students work on the tasks in pairs or small groups);
  3. Selecting particular students to present their mathematical work during the whole-class discussion;
  4. Sequencing the student responses that will be displayed in a specific order; and
  5. Connecting different students’ responses and connecting the responses to key mathematical ideas.

Let’s walk through how this might look using ASSISTments.


Example Assignment Problem - Assistments - Formative Assessment Solutions - Image

Here is a problem from 7th Grade Open Up Resources on ratios and rates. 

As a first step, you can use the student view to try out the math yourself. This will give you the opportunity to anticipate likely student challenges. You may also refer to curriculum materials. For example, Illustrative Math includes “Anticipated Misconceptions” as part of their teacher facing lesson materials so that you can plan to properly address common student misunderstandings beforehand.

Once you have a chance to predict and anticipate student challenges, ASSISTments allows you to actively monitor student responses in real time using the Assignment Report. If the problems are being worked on in class (and assuming in-person learning), the teacher can move around the classroom and listen to discussions among students. While more difficult, a version of this is even possible during remote learning.  DonnaLee Tignor, an ASSISTments Coach, developed interactive breakout room slides that allow students to capture their thinking while working in small groups. This and other helpful resources for virtual student discussions can be found in her Breakout Room in a Box.

Once all students have completed their work, you can view all responses in one place (the assignment report) and select student work samples that showcase the diversity of student thinking. Take into consideration presenting both correct and incorrect answers so you can celebrate the pieces of correct thinking and also discuss how to avoid incorrect responses in the future.

Once you have selected which student responses to discuss, determine the optimal sequence. Open response questions, which can easily be viewed by clicking “Essay Scoring” are likely ideal, as you can see student work. You can also indicate the order you would like them to appear, allowing you to project and sequence your discussion.

Example Scoring Rubric - Assistments - Formative Assessment Solutions - Image


The ideal is to progress from concrete to abstract thinking. Looking to the image, a teacher may choose Student 22 and Student 24’s responses to present and share first. These students have shared their thinking clearly, showing a step by step process that is easy for concrete thinkers to understand.

Example Scoring Rubric - Assistments - Formative Assessment Solutions - Image

Choose the more abstract student thinking to share last so students can see more complex versions of mathematical thinking, as is the case with students 23 and 25.

Once you have discussed student solutions, the teacher can then fill in any of the blanks by connecting key understandings and learnings from the lesson.

ASSISTments will always be a teacher driven tool that provides you with ways to empower students with data. Class discussions are one such way you can do this, and we see huge benefits when teachers take this step. It allows students to learn together and deepen their understanding, and it makes clear to students that the work they do in the platform is valuable and important to the learning process.